Senate committee sets nomination hearing for top food safety official

Senate committee sets nomination hearing for top food safety official

A committee in the U.S. Senate has finally set a nomination hearing to consider Jose Emilio Esteban for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s top food safety job.

Nominated on Nov. 12, 2021, by President Joe Biden, Esteban is scheduled to go before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry on Sept. 22. The committee has not offered any reason why the nomination hearing has been delayed so long, except for a comment from Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-MI. At one point she said there was paperwork needed from the White House.

Also set to testify before the Ag Committee are Alexis Taylor, the long-awaited nominee for undersecretary for trade and foreign agriculture affairs at USDA, and Vincent Garfield Logan who is nominated to serve on the Farm Credit Administration’s board.

One nominee not scheduled for a confirmation hearing before the committee is Stacy Dean, who is nominated to be the undersecretary of food, nutrition and consumer services. Republicans have kept Dean under scrutiny for her handling of the Thrifty Food Plan reauthorization, which increased SNAP benefits, previously known as the food stamp program. Dean headed up that initiative after it was authorized in the 2018 farm bill.

As for Esteban, he has been waiting for confirmation while working at USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) as the agency’s chief scientist. There he provides scientific advice to support agency policies, including microbiology, chemistry and pathology. 

It is his fourth position at FSIS, all within the Office of Public Health Science. Before his current assignment, he was Executive Associate for Laboratory Services, the Scientific Advisor for Laboratory Services and Research Coordination, and the Laboratory Director for the Western Laboratory.

Before joining the USDA, Esteban worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer, Staff Epidemiologist, and Assistant Director of the Food Safety Office.

Outside the U.S. federal government, Esteban is the Chair for the Codex Alimentarius Commission Committee on Food Hygiene. This committee sets definitions for international food hygiene standards for international trade. 

Esteban was trained as a veterinarian in Mexico and supplemented his training with an MBA, a master’s degree in preventive veterinary medicine, and a Ph.D. in epidemiology from the University of California-Davis.

To fill the gap while Esteban has been waiting for his confirmation, the White House named  Sandra Eskin on March 17 as Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. Deputy jobs do not require Senate confirmation and Eskin went to work shortly after being named to the No. 2 food safety job.

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